Spanish-language media are reporting that in the Honduran Presidential Palace, lately occupied by Manuel Zelaya, criminal investigators have found pre-tabulated “results” for the unconstitutional referendum Zelaya was trying to force in June. In one district, according to computer files seized by authorities, there were to be 550 total ballots cast, with 450 approving Zelaya’s question, 30 voting no, 20 ballots left blank, and 30 ballots nullified. Zelaya’s attempt on the Honduran constitution was modeled on similar processes in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador that have enabled presidents there to remain in office after their constitutionally limited terms ended. (The methodology also invites a disquieting comparison with Ahmadinejad’s in Iran’s June 12 election.)
It should thus be no surprise that talks between Zelaya’s representatives and those of the interim Honduran government of former legislative leader Roberto Micheletti broke down Sunday. The talks, mediated by Costa Rica’s President Oscar Arias, were promoted by the U.S. and OAS as a means of resolving the Zelaya situation peacefully. Micheletti and the Honduran Congress maintain that they followed the rule of law in removing Zelaya from office and continue to balk at the provision of Arias’s proposal, which requires admitting Zelaya into a power-sharing arrangement until the election Micheletti intends to hold this fall.
The Obama administration has maintained comparative silence on developments in Honduras since Obama’s initial condemnation of Zelaya’s removal on June 28 and his endorsement the next day as “still president.” Hillary Clinton met with Zelaya on July 7, however, and Robert Gibbs reaffirmed on July 15 that, in the administration’s view, the removal of Zelaya was “not in accordance with democratic principles.”
Perhaps, in part, it was not. Miguel Estrada — a native Honduran and the U.S. constitutional scholar whose federal-bench appointment, by George W. Bush, was stalled by Senate Democrats — concluded in a July 10 editorial that although Zelaya’s removal was performed by the book, it was not correct for the other branches of government to send him out of the country. They should have jailed him in Honduras.
That would almost certainly have been a better tactical, as well as legal, decision. Zelaya threatens to continue his fight and reportedly is asking his labor-union supporters to stage a nationwide strike this Thursday and Friday to herald his planned return to Honduras by the 25th. In Nicaragua, where troops were reportedly assembling at the Honduran border two weeks ago, Daniel Ortega has rejected the deployment of international peacekeeping troops in Honduras and accused Honduras of collaborating with the U.S. in a coup attempt against him — apparently setting up a pretext for intervention. A passive U.S. approach is the main condition needed for Zelaya’s supporters — Chavez, Ortega, Castro — to turn the standoff into a Honduran civil war. But maybe, at the end of it, a victorious Zelaya would at least hold an “election.”